by Andy Meechan, with Harald Hedlund (www.blood-bowl.net)
The following may be of use to you in a few ways: you’re a beginning Coach; you want to learn some new plays; or you want to see if your favourite cunning plays are original after all. This should be of use to you unless you fall into the last case; the Lateral Plays page is probably more your style – here we’ll see basic kick-off Offensive and Defensive setups and take you through a turn-by-turn guide on how the play should progress. If you’re a new Coach you’ll find the word ‘should’ gains more meaning as you get into the game: experienced Coaches know what I’m talking about.
The text below is split into two main areas: Offence and Defence. Both of these split again when discussing general tactics to be used against certain styles of play which your opponent will attempt. These styles are loosely grouped into the following two areas: Strength and Agility. Strength teams such as Orcs or Chaos are renowned for their brutal approach to the game (specific race tactics are discussed in the Team Playbook) which is characterised by a slow moving offence which will gain the upper hand in the second half of the game through weight of numbers due to a grinding attrition in the first half. Agility teams on the other hand rely upon their ball moving abilities to out-score their opponents. They can handle the ball well and generally run rings around their opponents, but suffer in the aforementioned games of attrition; relying to score more in the first half than the Strength team can in the second.
Of course this is a liberal application of such stereotypes and some teams fall [almost] neatly between the two. These teams are the easiest to start playing with, but will give you little long-term challenge compared to one of the extreme teams. But for now all you need to know is that we’ll be broadly stereotyping to avoid an article which will take you a day to read and a lifetime to master.
We’ll start by looking at defensive set-ups; after all games are won by your defence (or so they tell me). All you know about your opponent when you’re kicking off is if their playing a Strength or Agility team: it doesn’t matter which we deal with first.
Astute Coaches will note by the end of this section that in Defence against Stronger teams the opposing team’s speed dictates your set-up whereas in the Defence against Agility teams your speed should dictate your set-up.
Defence against Strength Teams
Note: Overlapping TZ’s are in blue and areas of no obvious lack of TZ coverage are in yellow/gold.
This defence is what we call a 3-4-4. The idea being that you group your players for mutual protection rather than to force your opponent to throw lots of dice while dodging. (You’d want a Defence Against Agility Teams for that!) There are two main options you can play: the spread 3-4-4 (top) which allows partial defence against an unexpected running play; or the Flattened 3-4-4 which is an extreme example. The Flattened 3-4-4 is played against really slow teams such as the Undead or Dwarfs whereas the other would be used when facing Orcs.
You will notice that the 3-4-4 allows only three Block actions from the Offence—this should minimise your Turn 1 casualties and allow a weightier response to your opponent.
In general a Strength team will form ‘Da Cage’ [more of which in Offence for Strength Teams, but for now all you need to do is imagine a block of eight players surrounding a ninth square where the ball carrier will usually be placed for safe-keeping] and roll it down the pitch in a manner akin to an Empire Steam Tank [WhFB reference – explain]. What you have to do is delay the score as long as you can and if you can manage this until the half ends then you’re doing better than a lot of Coaches!
What you need to do is force your opponent into making Blitz moves only to further the forward progress of his players – the less Blocks he manages, the less your players get carried off the field; leaving more of your Defence left to prevent the score! This is achieved by getting your guys out of his forward Tackle Zones (TZ’s), but keeping them with only one square between them and their opponent; easier for those teams with a higher Agility (AG) really! This should go on until you’re ready to drop (in which case try Letting Them Score) or until the half finishes.
But surely you can give a bit of grief as well as receive some?
Sure you can. If you’ve got a couple of players standing waiting to take a pounding why not let them outflank your opponent, running around to any weak spots you may have noticed in his Cage. This serves a twofold purpose—not only do you actually threaten to ‘pop’ the Cage (and hopefully turnover the ball!), but it also forces your opponent to respond by peeling players from the forward motion of his play, slowing the momentum further!
Defende against Agility Teams
Note: Overlapping TZ’s are in blue and areas of no obvious lack of TZ coverage are in yellow/gold.
I call this defence a 5-5-1; with the 5’s being concave across the field (Harald prefers a 3-2-3-2-1, but the 5-5-1 can be tweaked to fit both of the diagrams above). The aim of this defence is to lay down a net of TZ’s in such a way as to give even a Gutter Runner a hard time; weigh the odds against their dice as it’s the only defence you have in their Turn 1. Again you will notice that there is a Flattened 5-5-1 (top) and a Spread 5-5-1. The Flattened 5-5-1 is of more use if you want to lay down intersecting TZ’s (there are five areas on the pitch with overlapping TZ’s); however you are giving up the backfield response by doing this (a compromise would be to drop the back 1 further into your own territory; just make sure it’s a Blitzer!). The Spread 5-5-3 allows deep-field response to penetrating dodgers – particularly handy if you’re playing a slow moving team: a Dwarf Longbeard would find it difficult to drop back from the Flattened 5-5-1 to Blitz a ball carrier threatening the Touchdown. Use the Flattened 5-5-1 if you have a fast team and the Spread 5-5-1 if your players are slow.
Again the 5-5-3 only allows three Blocks on Turn 1 for the Offence. Although you don’t need to worry about attrition as much as with Strength teams, you shouldn’t present unnecessary Blocking opportunities unless you have to.
Generalising once more, Agility teams will take advantage of their speed and dodging ability to drive at least one group [more of which in Offence for Agility Teams, but for now all you need to know is that there will probably be an obvious scoring group and quite likely a second, smaller, distraction group] of players midway into your half in their Turn 1; setting themselves up for the Turn 2 TD. What they aim to do is get the ball from their Thrower (probably still midway in their half) to any eligible receiver and score; the difficult bit for you is that all of their players are usually eligible receivers!
All you can do in their Turn 1 is rely on your chosen defence to force as many Dodge rolls as possible; the faster they use their Team and Dodge Rerolls the better. Your Turn 1 is rather crucial as your opponent intends to score in their Turn 2 (unless they’re trying to Run Out the Clock). Your Defence must be fluid enough to either throw Blocks on any opposition player within range of the TD (discounting Event Cards) or get close enough to them to cover them in TZ’s; making it statistically improbable that they can Catch and Dodge with any success. These TZ’s should be lain between their opponent and the Endzone. Meanwhile your Line of Scrimmage (LoS) players will probably serve you best by splitting into two groups:
Group 1 will seal the eligible Passing Lanes to your opponents receivers. This way you can try for an Interception or if you have lower AG players they should lay more TZ’s onto their opponents; this time to their opponents sides or rear.
Group 2, ideally consisting of two or three Ball Retrieval players, will put pressure on the Ball carrier or generally make a nuisance of themselves by laying TZ’s onto eligible Hand Off players. Be aware that the Thrower may not pass directly to the eligible TD receiver (more on this in Offence for Agility Teams).
The odds are in the favour of the Agility team scoring so don’t be demoralised by this. After all if you play an Agility team then you can expect to score at the same rate; if you Coach a Strength team then take solace in pounding them into the dust while they score!
Offence is easier to execute than Defence for your first two turns of the drive as you will set up after the kicking team and be able to spring your attack before the Defence can muster itself. After two turns you should be in a position to score or grind down your opponent; in either case you will be calling the plays as this article can do no more than suggest an opening break and method of finishing the drive.
Bear in mind what you have learned above and that the speed of your team will dictate the kicking teams defence if you are playing a Strength team, whereas the Defence will proscribe it’s own set-up if you are an Agility team.
Offence with a Strength Team
Note: The Offence are in white, the Defence in red.
This is called a Weighted Offence; where you position your players to overwhelm one side of the Pitch, thus gaining a foothold which the Defence should have a hard time reversing. Setting up your Offence is dependent on your players individual strengths and weaknesses, but as this section deals with Strength teams I can safely assume that you have at least some muscle available to you. Place said muscle on the LoS in the centre of your players and in base contact with an opponent: he’s there to hurt people after all!
Note: if you have to place anyone on their own on the LoS then they should be muscle players who can look after themselves – you do not want a weak link on your Offensive LoS.
Turn 1 on the Drive
In Blood Bowl, the golden rule is that all ‘safe’ movement should be carried out first; so move your Turn Marker! If the ball is safe for one turn then you can leave it alone – what good is the ball if you have nowhere to go? To this end your first moves can be to Block and Blitz players away from the Widezone you will be using – try to use Two Dice You Choose blocks with players who have Block (remember those muscle players?). This is imperative with any Blitz moves you pull because if you have to roll a One Dice block without even Block to rely on then your plan can crumble at that point and your Offence will grind to an embarrassed halt. Don’t despair; it happens to all of us.
Consolidation of your beachhead into your opponents half is recommended at this point. Use all of your Move actions which don’t require Dodge rolls first. After these have been made you should assess the situation thus:
- Is my position secure should I suffer a Turnover now? If it is then consider your Dodge roll moves to a position which will strengthen either the beachhead, the predicted final destination of the ball this turn, or your weak flank. Now think carefully about moving the ball.
- Where will the ball end this turn if I fail to pick it up? Is my position secure enough to shrug off a failed Pick Up attempt this Turn? If not then secure the path between the ball and your opponent by sticking a player in the way – they’ll make the Defence run farther and, hopefully, force them out of Blitz range.
- Where will the ball end this turn if I successfully move it? Is it secure from my opponent? If you’re confident about this then go for it: Pick Up the ball and move it to a secure area. This can be either the newly formed pocket (your proto-cage) or it can be in a position which will get you to your cage next turn.
Further Turn Progression
This is where the going gets tough. You should ideally be getting as much forward movement into your cage (which should now contain the ball carrier) as possible each turn. If this is because your opponent is getting out of your way then good; if he’s letting you Block him out of the way then so much for the better (your Blockers like hitting things after all!). Frenzy is a skill of particular use as such players can gain you additional space for movement by pushing their opponents back (or even off the Pitch!). Beware that you do not travel too close to the Sideline however as your cage may find itself being forced into the Crowd!
Your momentum should be maintained at all times and the Cage can break up into a smaller group if it has to because of this; you’re not going to score if you don’t move toward the Endzone. Be prepared to take the whole eight turns of the half if you have to (if you have them!) as this is not a fast team you have chosen, be patient, be brutal.
If you feel that you have a better chance rolling up the centre than a Widezone then do so, but beware of traps: note where the key Defensive players are (Strip Ball, Tackle, etc).
Your initial blocks should clear a Running Lane unimpeded by opposing TZ’s.
Once such a Running Lane has been established, your players should take full advantage of it in forming their Beachhead. The same rule for moving the ball and Cage stand, but as Coach you should be wary that your team can get outflanked on either side now!
Offence with an Agility Team
Note Offence is in white and Defence is in red.
Offence with an Agility team is harder to pin down than with Strength teams as there are so many more possibilities. In general you will find that the standard weighting of your LoS works just as well as with Strength teams; in fact it is necessary as you need to remove as many TZ’s from your path as possible to increase the odds of moving many players before a turnover occurs through a failed Dodge.
Ideally you would like to create a path which has no TZ’s at all and which give your players a free run toward the Endzone. (As with the right flank in the diagram above.) This can be acieved by identifying any weak points in your opponent’s Defensive line and exploiting them by judicious use of Blocks and your Blitz.
Once the hole has been made then you should force your eligible receivers through the gap, flooding one area of the half with four or so players. This should cause plenty of problems as four players can be mutually supportive and demand at least an equal number of opposing players to respond; the more that respond the better as it leaves other areas of the pitch free for your second flank.
The second flank should consist of fewer players (otherwise your whole team will be in your opponents half!) and will act as a major pain in the neck for your opponent. They can either help out your first group by removing opposing TZs or can threaten to score themselves. This woks remarkably well in that your opponent will then have to split their efforts between the two groups or risk having you score a two turn TD. A further benefit of this is that the Defence may well split up the middle leaving a third coring path for your ball carrier and his bodyguard!
Further Turn Progression
If you do not have any of your players in a position to receive the ball and score in Turn 2 then think fast! Agility teams rely upon scoring within four turns, otherwise they are in serious risk of being drawn into a battle of attrition which they may well lose. Be prepared to take risks when Passing, Catching, Dodging and running (including Go-For-It’s) as these points set your team apart from the others. You will need to control the urge to play conservatively or risk losing scoring opportunities, be warned: the buzz you get when a multiple move play terminates in a perfect TD after using rerolls (both Team and Skill) and daring manoeuvres is well worth it!
Here are some general pointers on skills. We’ll look at preferred skills for Strength and Agility teams as well as skills appropriate for both. Obviously if you manage to get a ‘doubles’ roll for the upgrade then you could look at the Agility skill suggestions for your Strength team and vice versa.
Skills for Strength Teams
Stand Firm and Guard should be high on your list of priorities – and probably in that order. Mighty Blow does have a place in your team; that place being your punishing, unmoving Line of Scrimmage (LoS). Talking of the LoS, Break Tackle can throw your opponent if they’re relying on some Tackle Zones (TZs) stopping your main Blockers from Blitzing their Catchers.
Skills for Agility Teams
Emphasising your strengths would mean choosing Dodge or Leap. Diving Tackle is a nasty surprise to play on anyone; as is Side Step. Although increasing your movement may seem unnecessary at first—as you can run rings around many teams – skills like Sure Feet can gain players a fair burst of speed, whereas Jump Up can affect your players in a more subtle manner: it’s great on those players who tend to start the turn on the ground. You really are spoiled for choice here as Agility skills are on the ‘most wanted’ list of every team.
Skills for all Teams
Block and Pro. That’s all you need to know. All right then, so they’re not the only good skills on the General Skills list: Tackle is a great indirect annoyance – as is Shadowing; Strip Ball has a rather specialist application, but forces skill choices upon your opponent. Finally you can teach your opponent to fear you by using Frenzy (remember to get Block!). If you play against Agility teams a lot then choose Pass Block for increased trouble!
For those that can choose Passing Skills Accurate and/or Strong Arm is a must to get an increased chance of placing the ball where you want. I would think hard before choosing between Safe Throw and Dump-Off and probably plump for the latter through personal taste – even though I have seen the most unlikely Interceptions happen!